REVIEW | Walk It Off by Erns Grundling
Pilgrims come from around the world to walk the Camino de Santiago, “The Way of St James”, in the north of Spain, SA journalist Erns Grundling, originally from Uitenhage, among them.
In this absorbing memoir he describes a personal pilgrimage along the 1,000km or so St Francis Camino (the Camino has many sub-sections or trails).
Grundling has 40 days but, before he even steps foot in Europe in May 2015, he first has to finish a travel report for Go! magazine, where he works, and in so doing he fleshes out the intense, broken-hearted soul who is heading “into the mild”.
In fact Grundling takes nearly a third of Walk It Off to get to Day 1 of the Camino but once he does, it totally captivates him – and the reader.
What is remarkable is that Grundling sets aside technology, leaving his laptop and cellphone in Paris.
Even for four years ago, in 2015, that is a feat of self-discipline but it is also a wise move, it turns out, as he can be more fully “in the moment”. And that, in turn, seems to be key to making a pilgrimage of purpose. One of the first Basque words he learns is “ultreia”, which he notes is useful on every step of the way – on the Camino and off – as it means “onwards, forwards”.
Certain moments will strike the reader more than others so the takeaway from Walk It Off will differ from person to person, just as travelling the Camino will mean different things to different walkers.
Grundling has written Walk It Off as a journal entry for each of the 40 days and these cover subjects which include scallop shells, stiff muscles, bed bugs, dormitories full of snorers from around the world, meals of tortilla de patatas and cafe con leche, musical interludes, colourful characters and – always – the kindness of strangers.
Many of those strangers become firm friends. “All you need for the Camino is your backpack and an open heart,” says one, Acacia, and there are many such points to ponder.
Although small and incremental, Damascus moments abound for Grundling which also makes his Camino (and his book) more than the sum of its parts. It opens up this sensitive yet antsy extrovert to experiencing life in the moment.
The sub-title, “A South African on the Camino” is good as the boytjie from Uitenhage reflects on home turf characters, drawing them into his story.
First published 2016 in Grundling’s native tongue Afrikaans as Elders, Edwin Hees has translated it into English.
I loved it Walk It Off and, with the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah now an earworm thanks to its inclusion, I will not quickly forget Grunding’s pilgrimage of “ultreia”.
Walk It Off, by Erns Grundling, is published by Queillerie and the recommended price is R280.